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A member of Tuscarora, one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois Confederacy, Grant Jonathan MSEL’97 saw firsthand how environmental degradation and a changing climate impacted the land and Indian Nations. “I wanted to contribute and do some- thing about it,” he said. Jonathan attended law school at the University of Buffalo and then was awarded a First Nations Environmental Law Fellowship at Vermont Law School. Since then, Jonathan has done nothing but tribal environmental work.
For the past 18 years, Jonathan has been with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as a regional Indian coordinator for the past seven. Based in New York, his role includes providing environmental grants to Indian Nations, helping them plan their environmental programs in reservation communities, and consulting whenever an EPA action has an impact in an area of interest.
Jonathan’s work is often complicated by not having enough resources to address issues such as garbage being dumped on Indian land or the polluting of water that for centuries has been used for drinking, fishing, agriculture, and spiritual purposes. To get at these problems, he often teams up with other state and local entities to combine resources.
Jonathan meets annually with leaders in upstate New York to discuss priorities, and this year, climate change was the dominating concern. “Most of these nations are beyond adaptation planning. They’ve been adapting to the changing weather for decades,” Jonathan said. “They’re more interested in resiliency projects that make their communities stronger, such as streambank stabilization, removing invasive plants, and controlling flooding.” They also look at how climate change has affected their spiritual lives, altering when ceremonies occur—for the first maple tree tapping or for thunder—based on the changing climate. In his spare time, Jonathan is an award-winning Iroquois bead artist. His intricate work detailing flowers and animals—owls are a favorite—can take weeks to a month to complete.
“I love my job,” Jonathan said. “Once in a while, I may reflect through my own awareness, I’ve come full circle; I’m actually still doing what I set out to do when I went to school.”